Photo Courtesy of Hilton HotelsVeteran CEO and Marketing Executive John Vanderslice is Hilton Worldwide’s Global Head of Luxury and Lifestyle Brands. In this role he has expanded the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad brands, and has expanded those brands within the past few year so include many in Central and Western China, also Macau, Koh Samui, The Maldives, London, Berlin and Panama.
Following the opening of Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund in 2011, Waldorf Astorias will open in Beijing in 2013 and Baoting and Sanya, both on Hainan Island in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Mr. Vanderslice is also the creator of The Luxury Manifesto, a series of web-based interviews with luxury thought leaders, worldwide. We interviewed him recently where we discussed a wide range of high-end trends-related topics.
JustLuxe: One of the emerging trends discussed at the Luxury Summit was the concept of worth when it comes to the spending patterns of the affluents, no matter how static the state of the economy looks now and may remain for awhile. As you know, the concept of worth is involved in the search for detail, artistry, sublimity, service and willingness to pay full margin for these things. Have you seen this trend in action?
John Vanderslice: Yes, we have. One of the things we have discovered as regards the new luxury consumer is that it is not about price anymore, it is indeed about worth. Worth is an algorithm that combines perceived value and exceptional guest experience, and both affect the new luxury customer. They are a lot younger, a lot more casual in demeanor and a lot more demanding of it.
JL: So how does the newer Conrad brand present worth to its guests? And how do the concepts of worth and luxury differ between the eastern and western hemispheres?
JV: The luxury guest does not chase a luxury experience, he wants it enveloping him when he arrives at the hotel. And the Conrad brand seems to fit the new luxury guest very well. Our motto is “smart luxury” which fits this consumer on three major dimensions: first is Conrad’s flawless, intuitive service; second, creating the space that provides human connectivity, where the guest can have social or business meetings in the same area; and third, is the interior design of the hotel, that often defines a worldly yet regional style. All of these define worth to the guest.
As regards to whether the concept of worth and luxury differs between east and west? I think there are more similarities than differences. Many managers of global businesses look at differences in the tastes and expectations of the luxury guests. We look at similarities, as we feel there are more similarities than differences. Who, in any culture, wouldn’t want a glass of champagne at 5 p.m.?
Waldorf Astoria Collection
JL: According to the Harrison Group and the Affluence Research Group, high end travelers are looking for a sense of welcome and a sense of sanctuary. What guest experiences within the Conrad brand distinguish (rather than differentiate) themselves in these two dimensions, in contrast to other high end brands?
JV: The guest experience is location-specific. In the Maldives, for example, a private plane takes you to the island and the Conrad team meets you at the plane in their white uniforms. It is a smart luxury experience. We are also beta testing the Conrad Concierge program in NY, where you can customize your stay even before you get there — from room service preferences, dining, and cultural experiences. They can all be planned before you get to the hotel. When we say we want our guests to have the smart luxury experience, it is a different feel between the one in New York, the one in Macao and the one on the Algarve in Portugal, but the dimensions are the same.
JL: The need for a great hotel story seems also crucial to the brand root system. How is that story told through the Conrad and Waldorf brands?
JV: Well, the Conrad brand has been created for the smart luxury consumer, and the Waldorf Astoria is the best known luxury brand in the world — it always goes a step beyond, and that step is defined as timeless elegance. The Waldorf Astoria has 23 hotels worldwide, and we are making inroads into China, with four Waldorf Astorias right now, and one more on the way. As those who have traveled to China know, this country is a great blend of old and new, and a great example is the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai, that we opened in 2011.
Part of the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai is The Waldorf Astoria Club that used to be the Shanghai Club, an exclusive British Gentleman’s Club in the 1920’s. The Shanghai Club was known for its Long Bar, an impressive 34m, 111 foot bar counter. We have restored this Long Bar according to the images we had. I have been there on a Saturday evening, and you can see how popular this hotel and club is, especially with the locals. The lines outside waiting to get in are almost as long as the long bar itself! As I often have said, in China, you can feel the luxury.
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai
JL: Last year you created and worked on the Luxury Manifesto, which I wrote about last year for JustLuxe. Who have you interviewed recently and what insights have been garnered this year?
JV: I have recently interviewed Salvatore Ferragamo, as well as the CEO of Patron Tequila, and the President of Audi America. Here are a few of our TAVs (take-away values) gleaned from these and other recent interviews. First, there is a difference between service and hospitality. Service can be learned from a manual, but hospitality is more intuitive, as it involves the deeper human attributes of authenticity and transparency. Second, time is the ultimate luxury. And third, and this is a very intuitive idea, that when running a business, the employees well-being comes first, the shareholders’ last. If the employees are happy, the business will succeed.